The sight ahead drew Bruce out of his inner world and back to reality. It could be an ambush.
Damn it. It’d been a good day (part of a good week) till now. Decent weather (upper sixties, and the wind and rain had passed), and no smoke.
Copping a squat, he considered the pile ahead. It resembled a human in clothes. He’d been walking down here to avoid humans. Zombies and survivors…neither were usually good company. He wasn’t much as ambush prey. Did have a gun (two, actually), some rounds, food (mostly energy bars, nuts, and dried fruit), a little water. Not substantial quantities.
Ravine walls thick with grasses, bushes, and brambles rose on two sides. Yeah, perfect place to take the easily beguiled.
The pile wasn’t moving.
Sighing, he put away the trail mix he’d been munching to free his hands, pulled the handgun out, and cursed. He was off the roads and highways because he was non-confrontational, didn’t have many rounds, and wasn’t a great marksman. He also wasn’t a good Samaritan. Heaving heavy sighs, he shifted his backpack and crept forward.
The pile didn’t move. A wind decided to add mischief to the leaves and bushes. He hoped to hell it was the wind, and not someone getting ready to get him.
Yeah, the pile was a human, female in jeans with a torn light blue shirt and jacket, non-zombie, but probably not alive. Blonde. White. Brown eyes were staring, and all that blood. Maybe forty or fifty years old, or somewhere in that zone. Not dead long. No animals had visited. Only touching her could tell him more.
He gazed up. She’d probably fallen from above. Pushed? Why would anyone be up there? What was up there?
With slow awareness, he realized something was not far from him. Pulse shifting to a faster speed, he turned and stood.
The animal (a lab? — he didn’t know these things) regarded him, tail down. It looked decently healthy and had a collar and tags. No pack was around, although that didn’t stop his guts from nervously squalling.
“Nice puppy.” His voice caught on a rasp. Been how long since he’d last spoken?
The dog flicked the tail once or twice and turned away, but kept looking back.
Bruce tapped his foot in his head, debating choices, uncomfortable with where the dog might lead him. The dog seemed patient, insistent, and intelligent.
“Okay, Lassie.” He walked after the dog. “Lead on.” He’d shoot the dog first if it led him to a trap. Well, that would depend, wouldn’t it?
The dog disappeared past some trees. Bruce took his time following. Rounding the trunks, he hunkered down and peeked around them like a child playing a game.
A man was on the ground. The dog was beside him, looking back at Bruce.
Man, woman, and dog, Bruce thought, putting things together. No ambush. He moved forward.
The man moved. A gun was in his hand but he didn’t raise it. A noise between sigh and grunt, word and pain, oozed free of him.
Bruce approached. “Hello.”
The man opened and closed his eyes, then opened and closed his mouth, adam’s apple jerking. A canteen was at hand. Bruce approached it, saw it open, and picked it up. It sloshed. Bending, he wet the man’s lips. “Hey. Hey.” He didn’t know what else to say.
From the pale, wan face, thin silver hair, and sunken cheeks, Bruce guessed him seventy something. The clothes told of some wealth (as did that watch).
The man responded to the water. Bruce trickled a little into the man’s mouth. “Thank you,” the man said. He closed his eyes. They snapped back open. “My wife. Carrie. She…”
“Blonde white woman, about forty to fifty, wearing jeans?” Like there could be anyone else. “I think I found her.”
The man’s expression shifted through hope to understanding. “Okay. Okay.” Tears threaded out of his eyes and down the sides of his face. “This is the way. I fell. Down the side. She was trying.” Eyes closing, he shook his head. “Doesn’t matter.”
Bruce wondered. Where could he take him? What could he do? “Where are you hurt?” Could he get help? “What…” He swallowed. “What can I do?”
“Nothing.” The man smiled. “No use. Back. Legs. Insides. I’m a mass of hurt. Oh, well, it was good until now. Can you…”
The man marshalled himself. “Bring her here? That possible?”
Bruce shuddered inside. He should just walk the fuck away. He should have never come over. He breathed out. “Okay. Okay. Sure.”
Hating the decision and himself for what he was doing, he tucked his gun into his pants took off his backpack. Retracing the way, he found the woman again. First, well, check. Yes, dead.
Trembles rolled through him. He hated touching the dead. Yeah, it didn’t make sense, but that’s how he was.
Realizations caught. She was still a little warm and pliant. Jesus, she could not have been dead long. He wondered what’d killed her. There was a lot of blood.
Bile rose. He didn’t want to get blood on himself.
Really? How fucking pathetic was he? He didn’t want to just drag her, either. That seemed just…wrong.
After sucking in three breaths, he squared himself, bent, and picked her up. She was so light, he almost sagged in amazement. Poor person, to die out here like this. That was the world but it didn’t make things any better.
He carried her back with no problem. The dog greeted him.
“That’s Jasper,” the man said. “Thank you for doing this. Now. Put her. Here. Beside me. Please.” As Bruce did, the man smiled. “Thank you. Thank you.”
Tears were storming down his face. “Okay, two other things, but I’ll reward you,” the man said.
Bruce knew what was coming. “Wait. What’s your name? I’m Bruce.”
“Bruce, I am Jerome. Thank you again, for what you’ve done. Now, if you can do more…”
Bruce knew what was coming. “I don’t know.” He glanced at Jasper. “Won’t your dog object?”
“Oh, I talked to Jasper while you were away getting Carrie. He understands it, probably better than us. Just aim at the chest, you know? I don’t know if I can be saved or not, but I figure, a world without Carrie isn’t where I want to be, not the way it’s turned to shit.” His voice was thinning. Jerome coughed, then pursed his lips for several seconds. “You can have my air yacht in return.”
“Up the top of the hill. It’s yours. Take it. Live, survive.”
“Okay.” What the the hell was an air yacht?
“And if you can, well, find my children. Son and daughter. They don’t speak with me. Didn’t care for Carrie. Were angry, which made me angry. In hindsight, which is all that’s left, it’s stupid of me and them. We all thought there was more time, but here we are.”
Jerome cleared his throat. “I’m asking a lot. The list just keeps growing. Kill me. Take care of Jasper. Find my son and daughter, Gerald and Jeanine. Their locations are in the yacht’s computer. That’ll give you guidance. It’s up to you, but I’d like it if you can find them, tell them what happened to me and Carrie, so they know.” He settled his gaze on Bruce. “I know I put a lot on you. You can promise anything, of course, and then do whatever you want. I understand that. The air yacht’s loaded with food and drink. It’s comfortable and secure.”
“I never heard of an air yacht. How will I fly it?”
“Oh, it flies itself. It’s at the top of this bluff. I think you can get up there. Fob is in my pocket. Opens all the doors, and turns everything on. It’s yours, Bruce. Just finish the job here, and take care of Jasper, please. He’s a good dog.”
Shadows were claiming the ravine by the time Bruce complied with Jerome’s request. Afterward, the dog went to the man, sniffing him and licking his face for a bit before turning away and joining Bruce. The dog’s humanity impressed Bruce.
He took the fob, along with Jerome’s watch and gun, all with regret. Then, speaking to himself as much as the dog, he squared himself and looked up. “How the hell are we supposed to get up there?”
Jasper responded like he knew. Heading for a path, he paused, looking back and waiting for Bruce to follow. Bruce tucked Jerome’s gun into his pack and swung it up onto his shoulders. Another long look was granted to the dead man and his spouse. He considered burying them.
He’d already buried so many, he was weary of it. Did that change anything? No, but he had nothing to dig with. “I’m sorry, Jerome. I really am.”
Life sucked enormously, yet it seemed like his was looking up. “Lead on, Jasper,” he said, then began following the dog up the side.